MTV PUTS NEW TWIST ON HOME SHOPPING

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MTV Networks is bringing high fashion to the lowbrow world of home shopping.

The parent of MTV: Music Television, VH-1: Video Hits One and Nick at Nite has snared top designers to create clothing and other products for a five-month test on all three channels.

The test is designed as an inexpensive springboard to a stand-alone channel that would carry home shopping shows on a 24-hour basis, marking the first large-scale shopping effort by a major programmer.

It's believed such a channel could top $100 million in annual sales in less than three years, much of it from viewers who are too young to use plastic to pay for their purchases. MTV Networks, now known as a purveyor of entertainment, could help legitimize home shopping by proving that the genre can indeed be "upscaled."

In a tryout during the Aug. 12-14 Woodstock festival, 8 hours of shopping on MTV generated 60,000 orders and more than $1 million in sales of Woodstock caps, sweatshirts, a Marvel Comics collectors edition and other exclusive merchandise.

Although the tremendous interest in that event can't easily be duplicated, MTV will trot out a dozen more shopping programs, all dubbed "The Goods," from today through yearend, sprinkled among several dayparts on one or more of the channels.

First up: the "Beavis & Butt-head Mega Model Jam," a live action and animated MTV segment that spoofs Paris runway fashion shows and hawks masks, backpacks, skateboards and other items.

MTV's goal isn't to permanently marry music videos and 1960s sitcoms with merchandising: That would risk offending its advertis-ers, which pay to sell similar goods to the same audience.

The initial hybrid approach builds on the "emotional bond" viewers of the niche channels have with the entertainment programming: One show, scheduled for Nick at Nite, features b&w clothing from designer Isaac Mizrahi "inspired" by garb worn by sitcom characters like Laura Petrie of "The Dick Van Dyke Show." Those items are priced at less than $100.

Todd Oldham is designing a line of retro housewares for Nick at Nite, spring fashions for VH-1 and outfits for MTV viewers. The MTV show will also include designs by Anna Sui and Marc Jacobs.

Another key category, of course, is music and related merchandise. All three channels will air a show starting Sept. 11 that offers merchandise tied to the Rolling Stones' Voodoo Lounge tour.

MTV executives say their programming's niche appeal will boost the chances for success, and they distance their efforts from QVC's and Home Shopping Network's general-merchandising approach.

"We saw a void in the market," said Thomas Freston, chairman-CEO of MTV Networks. "Home shopping today is a full-service department store ... We want to put our own spin on it."

"This is what we think will be the future of electronic retailing," said Mark Rosenthal, the MTV Network exec VP in charge of the test.

Analysts agree, with one estimating potential sales of $50 million to $150 million in the second year, depending on programming hours and distribution of a fourth channel. (HSN and QVC each have sales of about $1 billion.)

One major obstacle, though, is payment: Many younger viewers have no credit cards, and half the Woodstock orders come from checks or money orders. Industry figures show that fewer than half of customers who order that way actually send in their money.

Direct marketing giant Fingerhut Cos., Minnetonka, Minn., is a partner in the venture, and analysts say it might issue a private-label MTV credit card.

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